Retrospeculative view, 1967

A sampling of the exellent short fiction of 1967:

Behold the Man, by Michael Moorcock, which won the Nebula for best novella

Gonna Roll the Bones, by Fritz Leiber, which won the Hugo for best novelette

Riders of the Purple Wage, by Philip José Farmer, which won the Hugo for best novella (a tie)

Weyr Search, by Anne McCaffrey, which won the Hugo for best novella (a tie)

Aye, and Gomorrah, by Samuel R. Delany, which won the Nebula for best short story

I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison, which won the Hugo for best short story

Worlds of Tomorrow; February, 1967WRLDSFEB1967Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny

Hawksbill Station, by Robert Silverberg

The Star Pit, by Samuel R. Delany

Flatlander, by Larry Niven

If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?, by Theodore Sturgeon

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New television shows in 1967:

Spider Man, adapted from the classic Stan Lee comic book character. The theme song is unforgettable…

The Prisoner, a British series, starring Patrick McGoohan (many times a murderer on Columbo). The Prisoner consisted of only seventeen episodes, but was a classic psycholigical drama that combined espionage and science fiction.

The Invaders, a show that lasted two seasons and was about a man who accidentally discovers a clandestine alien invasion and sets out to foil their plots.

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Some movies from 1967:

The Andromeda Nebula (Туманность Андромеды), a film from the USSR, based on the novel by Ivan Yefremov.

Bedazzled, an odd comedic retelling of the Faust myth, about a lonely man who is seduced by the devil, starring Peter Cook (as the devil), Dudley Moore, Raquel Welch, and Eleanor Bron. As if one movie wasn’t enough, Hollywood provided a remake in 2000, starring Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.

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A sampling of the speculative novels of 1967: 

The Jewel in the Skull (Hawkmoon series, book 1), by Michael Moorcock: a classic sword-and-sorcery/good-versus-evil novel set in a far future Europe. This is a short, fast-paced novel that has no time for extraneous details like political exposition or detailed characterization.

Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin. This novel was the best-selling horror book of the 1960s and Roman Polanski adapted and directed a film version in 1968 that starred Mia Farrow (Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Minnie Castevet).

City of Illusions, by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is an early work by Le Guin, and I recently bought an edition that contains her first three novels; Rocannon’s World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), and City of Illusion (1967). If you’re a fan of Le Guin, I’d recommend purchasing/reading the collection; but, if you’re new to her, I’d suggest The Dispossessed and the Left Hand of Darkness, both of which are worthy of multiple readings. In City of Illusion, the protagonist, Falk, is searching for his memory. He is a disoriented alien, roaming through a forest on a far-future Earth. The novel follows Falk as he travels, eventually rediscovers himself, and becomes a different individual when his memories flood back. It is an interesting novel that reveals the roots of Le Guin’s future brilliance.

Thorns, by Robert Silverberg. I’ve never read this novel, mainly because the plot doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ve heard it is well written. This novel was possibly the turning point in the maturity of Silverberg as a writer, and his output for the next several years included some absolute classics (to name a few: Nightwings (1969), Son of Man (1971), A Time of Changes (1971), and Dying Inside (1972)). Thorns is the story of an unscrupulous, extraordinarily obese man who manipulates two psychologically damaged people into falling in love — and inevitably, emotionally, disastrously, they split up —  as entertainment for the masses (i.e.: reality TV at its evil worst).

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, which won the Hugo Award. The original crew of a space ship that landed on a planet rule the descendants of the ship’s passengers by using advanced technology to imitate the powers of Hindu gods. There is infighting amongst the ‘gods’ and a rebellion is launched by one of the original crewmembers. There are also life forms of pure energy that inhabited the planet before the arrival of the spaceship. I didn’t care for the novel and I felt no emotional attachment to any of the characters, but it is considered a sterling classic and is much beloved.

The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany, which won the Nebula Award for best novel. It isn’t an easy read, and is not my favorite Delany novel, but it’s packed with meaning and resonates far after the final word is read. The novel takes place on Earth; however, it is set tens-of-thousands of years into the future. There are no humans left on the planet, which is now populated by aliens. The aliens are like psychic archeologists digging through humanity’s history and myth, which, to the aliens, appear interchangeable; myths are endemic, part of the alien’s everyday life, and are only partially explained at the crossroads of logic and irrationality (with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I’d suggest searching at the corner of Einstein Street and Gödel Avenue). Two of the major themes are travel and difference (from ‘the norm’). Travel through space, time, and thought, is examined and is paralleled in Delany’s travels through the Mediterranean, Spain, and Greece, which he relates in between-chapter notes. Difference from the ‘norm’ is demonstrated by the mutating aliens who are attempting to maintain a sense of conformity while sifting through the gossamer memories of a sentient species — humanity — that has vanished. The reader is immersed in the alien’s milieu, just as the aliens are immersed in the quagmire of humanity’s psychic memories. If you’re interested, I’ve written a review of the book that should (I hope) provide more of the book’s flavor and aid in decoding the story; you may not agree with my interpretations, but they might provide a starting point. The Einstein Intersection is a challenging book, but it is well worth the effort and almost makes a case for novel of the year, however, …

My pick for Retrospeculative novel of 1967 is…

the_master_and_margaritaThe Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. First published in 1967, The Master and Margarita was written between 1928 and 1940. According to notes in the edition I read, Bulgakov revised the novel until he was too ill to continue. The novel covers a great deal of ground and consists of too many layers to fully analyze in a quick review, but the main thrust is a satire of the Soviet system and literati, and it is unabashed in its depiction of Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate, and Satan. There are two threads to the novel; one thread is set in Moscow at the time the book was written and is a retelling of the Faust story, and the other thread is set in ancient Jerusalem and is a retelling of the story of Pontius Pilate. The sections in Moscow incorporate a few main characters and a wide assortment of minor characters, and the sections in the Pontius Pilate thread focus on a handful of characters. The two threads eventually unite at the end of the novel.

A dark comedy occurs in the Moscow sections as many characters ‘disappear.’ These characters have been taken by the secret police, but Bulgakov obscures the fact, and he paints a mood of humorous paranoia for the reader. This comedic backdrop ultimately fades into the horror of a life lived under controlled surveillance, and the stark realism of a claustrophobic, paranoid life lived within the Soviet police-state is shown to be at least as menacing as the devil and his retinue that Bulgakov creates.

It is not a perfect novel — the story becomes scattered, with some lucidity issues at certain points — but it is considered by many to be a classic work of Russian literature, and possibly one of the most important novels of the 20th century; big boots to fill, but it is a marvelous novel.

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The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany

original Ace paperback coverWill our stories outlive us; and, if so, how will we be perceived when they are discovered?

When I was younger, a couple of Samuel R. Delany’s novels eventually discouraged me from reading any more of his works. I had enjoyed Babel-17, Nova, and Triton (aka Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia); but, when I got bored in the middle of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (SiMPLGoS), I turned to Dhalgren, whereupon I gave up on the author for over twenty years. I recently read SiMPLGoS and enjoyed it immensely (it is now my favourite Delany novel), and I even managed to struggle through Dahlgren, learning to appreciate its brilliance (although it is not a novel to be taken lightly: a steadfast immersion is required). So I thought I’d try The Einstein Intersection (a novel that is reputedly difficult), and I’m glad I didn’t read it when I was younger; it would have been too different. Fortunately, after reading Dhalgren, The Einstein Intersection is a walk in the park.

I think in this short novel Delany is showing off (or he was a heck of a lot smarter than I was at the tender age of twenty-three), but if the reader can struggle through the confusing patches there are delights to be had. Delany is definitely not for everyone, but the novel includes some wonderfully lyrical writing, and the story is quite satisfying if you’re able to immerse yourself in his world-vision. It amazes me that Delany was published in a pulp fiction market. His working title for the book was A Fabulous, Formless Darkness (from a William Butler Yeats work he’d quoted), but it was ‘re-worked’ by the publisher, Ace Books (of  garish covers and low-priced packaging fame). Ace‘s main audience was teenage boys who wanted formulaic plots with the usual science fiction stereotypes; Delany employed the stereotypes, but twisted them into unusual perspectives. Even though he set his stories far in the future, they were designed to describe the world as it was.

The novel takes place on Earth; however, it is set tens-of-thousands of years into the future: myths run rampant and are only partially explained at the crossroads of logic and irrationality (with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I’d suggest searching at the corner of Einstein Street and Gödel Avenue). Two of the major themes are travel, through space,  time, and thought, as echoed in Delany’s travels through the Mediterranean, Spain, and Greece (which he relates in between-chapter notes), and difference from the ‘norm’, as demonstrated by the mutating aliens, who are attempting to maintain a sense of conformity while sifting through the gossamer memories of a sentient species — humanity — that has vanished.

Humanity has long since moved on and the Earth is radioactive, which causes rapid genetic mutations in the aliens. Some are born as non-functionals, and are kept in a kage, where they are watched over and protected. It is unclear where the humans have gone; perhaps they are nothing but psychic memories. The aliens have become anthropologists, attempting to interpret the spirit of humanity, researching by immersion: they adopt human form and re-enact fragments of humanity’s stories, integrating mythological accounts and pop-culture, which they are unable to separate as different types of memory. To some extent, the pop-culture inclusions date the book, but it is the concept that is important, and the pop-culture aspects are possibly essential to Delany’s ideology.

There is at least one modern alien metropolis on Earth (Branning-at-sea), but the protagonist, Lobey (an Orpheus and Theseus archetype, with many characteristics of the Roman God Pan) is a sheep herder in a small village. After Lobey’s lover — Friza — is killed, he sets off on a quest to avenge her in a pseudo-reenactment of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Other mythical beings and real-life pop-icons (Ringo Starr, Hades, Billy the Kid, the Minotaur (and Phaedra, Theseus, and Ariadne), Elvis, Odin, and others) are infused  into the Orpheus myth, resulting in a fair bit of fanciful confusion.

The reader is immersed in the alien’s milieu, just as the aliens are immersed in the quagmire of humanity’s psychic memories. Within the body of the novel Delany has included some travel-notes that he wrote while wandering through foreign lands, while creating the novel. At one point [p.119 (1998 Ed.)], he writes: “…perhaps on rewriting I shall change Kid Death’s hair from black to red.” But the reader has already encountered the character, and his hair is red, which demonstrates Delany’s interest in time, events in time, and awareness; what has been, what might have been, and what is. And he has also set up a conscious association between the author, the reader, and the words on the page (something he does to a dizzying degree in Dhalgren). At another point [p. 65 (1998 Ed.)], Delany implicitly states that “…the central subject of the book is myth.”

It is a book full of myth and peppered with confusion; nevertheless, if you enjoy a story that requires some cobbling together and leaves you thinking after you finish, I highly recommend it; along with Dhalgren, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, and the Return to Nevèrÿon series, it displays Delany at his myth-spinning best.

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Some Extraneous Stuff:

What happened to the humans and what are the aliens?

  • It is possible that humanity caused an apocalyptic event, leaving the Earth radioactive. The aliens then found the planet, and are attempting to understand the species that destroyed itself.
  • It may be that humanity somehow exited this plane of existence (to a higher evolutionary state), and the surface radiation comes from tunnels below the planet. The radiation leakage is controlled — released — in order to provide more genetic variation in the aliens, who are attempting to recreate the achievements of humanity.
  • It is possible that the aliens are in a virtual reality, a simulation (several times Lobey is  told he is ‘real’; as opposed to what?). This would explain the unusual abilities of some characters, and the possibility of characters ‘coming back to life.’ Perhaps Lobey, and the others, are not aliens, but the beings that inherited the Earth after the humans ‘disappeared.’ Perhaps they are the descendants of humanity (the meek, who inherited the Earth) and are attempting to build a utopian,  human-like society.

Some of the notes I made while reading (mostly obvious stuff; some potential spoilers (but I don’t think they ‘spoil’ anything)): Continue reading